Health authorities in Changhua County are looking to issue a resident with an order to seek medical treatment and impose fines after the woman’s neighbors complained of trash heaps at her house, but psychiatrists say she might suffer from compulsive hoarding syndrome.
The village warden on Wednesday last week said the woman, surnamed Pan (潘), who is in her 70s, often picks up discarded items from the streets, although her family is not poor, and she had reportedly stolen broken electric fans and bicycles from other residents.
Residents said a garbage dump created by Pan next to her home had been cleared by local garbage collectors four times in two years, but she has continued to collect discards and other trash.
Pan’s husband and son no longer live with her, reportedly due to her collection of garbage and the smell.
Psychiatrist Chen Yi-sing (陳羿行) said Pan most likely suffers from “compulsive hoarding syndrome,” a form of obsessive-compulsive order (OCD) in which the sufferer collects worthless or unhygienic materials to such an extent that it hampers their ability to live a normal life.
“People with this syndrome have deteriorating self-control, showing stress and anxiety, and to gain self-comfort they collect a large amount of objects. However, they can cross the line from collecting into kleptomania,” he said.
Her problems might arise from a combination of depression, schizophrenia or other psychotic conditions, or traumatic events, but issuing fines would not help, Chen said.
Medical treatment is needed to determine the cause of the problem, as well as whether medication or rehabilitation therapy could help, he said.
Chang Ting-kang (張庭綱), head of Changhua Christian Hospital’s psychiatric department, said compulsive hoarding syndrome shows up in about 2 to 6 percent of the population, and is three times more likely in older people (55 to 94) than mid-range adults (34 to 44 years).
“A sufferer might be seen as being frugal initially, then as they get older, the conditions will manifest in stronger ways,” Chang said.
“We suggest family members provide emotional support, and seek more contact between the sufferer and people in the community to help the sufferer overcome the behavior, along with seeking treatment,” Chang added.
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